Barter Theatre reaches record number of students

Published 12:10 pm Friday, May 15, 2020

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Barter Theatre has brought a free presentation of Macbeth to the homes of almost 3,000 students during the coronavirus shutdown

ABINGDON, Va. — Barter Theatre has been awarded the highly competitive Shakespeare in American Communities grant five times since 2015, and 2020 was no different.
Shakespeare in American Communities is a national theater program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest bringing performances and related educational activities to audiences across the country. The program supports high-quality, professional productions of Shakespeare’s plays and related educational activities for middle and high school students in underserved schools throughout the United States.
Over the past five years Shakespeare In American Communities has enabled Barter Theatre to provide almost two thousand students with free access to Shakespeare productions and workshops, and a record breaking 1,900 students were scheduled to attend this year’s production of Macbeth. Just one week before the play’s opening, Barter was forced to close its doors as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Without a recording of the production and the ability to gather its actors, Barter faced not fulfilling its commitment to its student audience.
Barter Theatre was founded during the midst of the Great Depression, a time when starting an arts organization seemed ludicrous. But the economic climate proved to be no match for the tenacious and inventive spirit of the Appalachian region that Barter calls home. Audience members traded produce for admission to plays, and Barter fed its actors with the box office’s earnings.
Faced with the challenge of the coronavirus’ impact on Barter Theatre’s ability to operate and serve its student audience, the Barter community drew on the tenacity and ingenuity of its founders and developed a solution: Macbeth From Our Homes to Yours.
Through Theatre Authority (a division of The Actor’s Equity Association) Barter was able to attain permission for Macbeth’s Equity actors to participate in the project, and every actor in the cast agreed to volunteer their time to the project.
Macbeth’s director worked tirelessly with Barter’s resident videographer to adapt the production to be recorded from the actor’s homes and to produce it in a way that not only told the story, but also created a mystical world far beyond that of a video conference.
Over the course of a week and a half, while the actors rehearsed, Barter’s group reservations coordinator reached out to each school who had planned to attend the planned production of Macbeth and arranged for every student to access the online performance, just a few short weeks before online school would end for the year.
But the Barter family did not stop there. A group of volunteers combed public online databases and compiled a contact list of thousands of school administrators and offered each one the same free student access afforded to those who qualified under the Shakespeare in American Communities Grant.
In a week and a half Barter Theatre transformed a staged play into an online presentation, and ensured that almost 3,000 students from nine states would be able to access the production, and its corresponding educational material, for free.
Barter Theatre, and those who love it, are the epitome of Appalachia, working together to face challenges head on, and provide the experience of story, even in difficult times, regardless of ability to pay. This cultural gem, tucked away in the Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia, makes an impact that is felt far beyond its mountain home.
About Barter Theatre
Barter Theatre, the nation’s longest running professional theatre, is located in Abingdon, Va. The theatre opened in 1933 during the Great Depression. Founder Robert Porterfield offered patrons admission to the theatre by bartering food and livestock. Barter Theatre was designated as the State Theatre of Virginia in 1946. It exists today as one of the last year-round professional resident repertory theaters remaining in the United States. Barter Theatre is funded in part by The Virginia Commission for the Arts and The National Endowment for the Arts.

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